Warning: Smoking Disclaimers Aren’t Working On Film-Goers – Mashable India

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The film industry loves disclaimers. Censorship and no-smoking clips have always been a part of the cinematic experience and by now, we’ve come to terms with the fact that there’s no way around it. So, we go through them over and over again. Message received guys: Smoking is stupid and you don’t want us to know what a cigarette looks like, thanks! But do you know where else smoking disclaimers are put up loud and clear? Only all the cigarette boxes ever sold. If that doesn’t work, how will the repetitive campaigns in the theatre work their magic?

Warnings ranging from the text that pops up during intense scenes to the blurring of tobacco on screen are taken pretty seriously by the makers but not so much by the viewers. On March 13, ‘No Smoking Day’, we are talking about the largest condemners of smoking- the film industry, wondering how disclaimers work and questioning their effectiveness.

Still from The Man Who Would Be Bond

As a regular cinema-goer, this is what I remember of the no-smoking campaigns: (1) Mukesh, the guy who got mouth cancer (2) The guy who had to sell two bangles to clear medical bills (3) Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, lecturing a man about cigarettes’ inability to make you look like a hero.

I am aware of the fact that I run the risk of being taken for an insensitive person, but let’s face it, this is exactly how everyone sees these clips too. Nobody I know remembers the whole thing or watches it for its value. And that is science!

In theory, these clips are supposed to work. Classical conditioning is attempted with pre-film campaigns. The marketing technique sure works for brands because they have their catchy jingles and lifestyle products to sell. But, even those adverts are left at earworms. I certainly don’t see myself buying Lyra leggings (nobody does that). While we’re keeping it real, his is the visual equivalent of you in the theatre:

It’s a tried and tested method to repeat something enough that it gets drilled into the minds of the viewing and listening audience. Note: That is why you remember the whole Vicco Turmeric ad song. The logic with no-smoking warnings is simple: make people responsible so that we are a step closer to curbing tobacco consumption. But, since the ill-effects of smoking aren’t a glamorous subject by a far cry, it’s hard to see audiences watching with rapt attention and eyes glued to the screens. The onscreen portrayal of disease and suffering doesn’t sit well with viewers. And if you think the shock value works, you will be surprised at the number of people willing to make fun of the tragic anecdotes on screen.

Filmgoers come in with a completely different mood. They are either too excited to watch the film or too eager to dig into the tub of popcorn and eat the whole thing, even before the film even begins (because honestly, how else does one eat popcorn?). Conclusion: They are not interested in finding out what happened to the guy who chewed tobacco every day because the pack disclaimers didn’t even bother him. It is human tendency to not heed caution when it’s blatantly served. This is why classical conditioning begins to fail.

Still from Hobbit

Adding to the ineffectiveness, is the chunk of audiences who now know better. While some of us sit through the ads, a majority opts towards skipping the entire routine (The National Anthem, included). People have started going to the theatres, 10-15 minutes after the official showtime. And there’s the loophole! If movie-goers are going as far as to enter the auditorium 10-15 minutes into the run time just to avoid all the background noise, why does the film industry think their hapless plea against smoking will still do what it was designed to do?

To someone who isn’t affected by the charms of smoking, the fact that films have to notify the audience that smoking is injurious to health and none of the film’s crew encourages smoking feels ridiculous. Of course, I know, you won’t tell a teenager that smoking is a great idea. No responsible person does that. Must you make that big a show out of it? But I get that these government-sanctioned disclaimers are put in place because India’s population is huge and all kinds of people (impressionable ones, included) find their way into auditoriums. The film craze is real with Bollywood fans and a huge section of fans need to know that imitating stuff that happens onscreen isn’t always wise.

Still from Cape Fear

Since I am a non-smoker, I get the liberty of teasing smokers when these clips play before films. And I noticed something rather interesting when a friend of mine claimed that it does, creep into his conscience now, and that he is making efforts to get rid of his smoking addiction. I realised that the receptiveness lies completely with the viewer. He didn’t care about the campaigns earlier but now, he somewhat gets what they are trying to say.

By themselves, the “anti-smoking” chants make little or no difference. Nobody is ready to pay attention but those who are already on the road to cut the habit of smoking by their own free will, understand the sentiment. It only goes to prove the fact that people will listen if they want to.

So boohoo, big brands and government disclaimers! You can’t condition people to do what you want. Smoking is a choice people actively make, just the way same way, quitting is a choice they make all by themselves. All the evidence points to the fact that people will choose a healthier lifestyle whenever that realisation dawns on them, no sooner and no later than that. Meanwhile, the 10-15 minute rule still applies.

Statutory warning (because the government is watching): Smoking is injurious to health. The author of this article doesn’t encourage smoking or the consumption of tobacco.

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